God • World • Human Family • Church
Saving Syria’s Children India’s “Father of the Poor” At the Front Lines in Ukraine
Syria, Shepherds and Sheep Serving refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley by Diane Handal
Out of Darkness Bringing hope to the blind in Egypt by Sarah Topol
A Firm Faith Armenian Catholics in Georgia persevere text and photographs by Molly Corso
Remembering India’s “Father of the Poor” by Jose Kavi Prayer and Protest An eyewitness describes the crisis in Ukraine by Borys Gudziak
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Connections to CNEWA’s world People Elias Kayrouz by Diane Handal Focus on the world of CNEWA by John E. Kozar
t A khachkar, or stone cross, marks the site of the “Gorge of Massacres,” where tens of thousands of Armenian women and children were killed during the Ottoman Turkish massacres.
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OFFICIAL PUBLICATION CATHOLIC NEAR EAST WELFARE ASSOCIATION
Volume 40 NUMBER 1
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Choose an enduring gift of love Remember CNEWA in your will
30 Front: Syrian refugee children attend classes in the community center founded by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Bechouat, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Back: After fleeing her war-torn home, a Syrian grandmother now lives outside Bechouat in the Bekaa. Photo Credits Front cover, pages 6-7, 9, 11, Tamara Hadi; page 2, Michael La Civita; pages 3 (upper right), 13, 17, David Degner; pages 14-16, Holly Pickett; pages 4 (top), 10, 36-39, back cover, John E. Kozar; pages 4 (bottom), 5, CNEWA; pages 3 (upper left), 18-23, Molly Corso; pages 24-25, Sean Sprague; pages 27-28, Jose Jacob; pages 3 (lower right) 29, Peter Lemieux; pages 3 (lower left), 30-31, CNS photo/Gleb Garanich, Reuters; pages 32-33 (left), 34, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Department of External Relations; page 33 (right), Bohdan Yemets; page 35, CNS photo/ Reuters. ONE is published quarterly. ISSN: 1552-2016 Publisher Msgr. John E. Kozar
24 Editorial Staff Paul Grillo Deacon Greg Kandra Michael J.L. La Civita Elias Mallon, S.A., Ph.D. J.D. Conor Mauro CNEWA Founded by the Holy Father, CNEWA shares the love of Christ with the churches and peoples of the East. CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern Catholic churches to identify needs and implement reasonable solutions. CNEWA connects you to your brothers and sisters in need. Together, we build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue — and inspire hope. Officers Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Chair and Treasurer Msgr. John E. Kozar, Secretary Editorial Office 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195 1-212-826-1480 www.cnewa.org ©2014 Catholic Near East Welfare Association. All rights reserved. Member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.
In Canada, call 1-866-322-4441 or visit www.cnewa.ca In the United States, call 1-800-442-6392 or visit www.cnewa.org
to CNEWA’s world
Pastoral Visit to Lebanon CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar and Communications Director Michael La Civita made a pastoral visit to Lebanon in March, focusing on the works of the local churches caring for displaced Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese families. There, they met with people who touch the lives of those in need on an individual level — including Mother Marie Makhlouf, superior general of the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross, an order of mostly Lebanese nuns that cares for children and adults with disabilities. While in the country, Msgr. Kozar hosted a dinner in Beirut with many of the church leadership from Syria and Lebanon. He paid tribute to the work of Issam Bishara, who served as regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt for more than two decades, and passed on the gavel of leadership to CNEWA’s new regional director, Michel Constantin. During the evening, a brief video was shown, highlighting the work of CNEWA’s Beirut office. You can view the video at ONEMAGAZINEHOME.ORG/ WEB/BEIRUT. And you can read more about the pastoral visit to Lebanon at our blog CNEWABLOG.ORG/WEB/ LEBANON2014.
A Bethlehem Landmark In February, Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, signed an agreement with the head of the Palestinian Authority’s Presidential Committee for the Restoration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Ziad Bandak, to provide $500,000 for the first phase of restoration of the ancient basilica, which includes repairs to the roof, clerestory windows and exterior walls. Originally built by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in the early fourth century and restored in the sixth by the Emperor Justinian, the church marks the site Christians revere as the birthplace of Jesus. The entire restoration project is expected to take up to five years and will cost an estimated $20 million. German Delegation Visits In February, a delegation from Misereor, the German Catholic
bishops’ organization for overseas development, visited Lebanon. The visitors were briefed on the situation of Syrian refugees in the country and how CNEWA, with its local church partners, is supporting and serving refugees and the poor in the region. Last year, Misereor awarded CNEWA a grant to help refugee families in Lebanon. Among its undertakings,
the project has funded remedial classes to 200 Syrian children; provided schooling and psychological counseling to hundreds of Syrian and Lebanese Armenian children and women; and offered psychological and spiritual counseling to dozens of Syrian families through the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. Egypt’s Damaged Churches Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, and Kamal Abdel Nour, CNEWA’s programs manager based in Beirut, met with local leaders in Egypt in January to inspect the damage to churches caused by acts of violence and demonstrations in 2013. In mid-August, crowds of men had attacked at least 42 churches, burning or damaging 37, as well as dozens of other Christian religious institutions. The attacks came after Muslim Brotherhood supporters claimed a link between Christian Copts and the ouster of President Muhammad Morsi.
OUR WEBSITE onemagazinehome.org OUR BLOG cnewablog.org Egypt’s military has promised to rehabilitate some of the buildings; much of the damage observed is extensive. CNEWA plans to offer support with furniture and equipment for schools, monasteries, churches and convents impacted by the violence. Spreading the Word
Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs In March, the patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Mar Ignatius Zakka I of Antioch and all the East, died in a German hospital after suffering a heart attack. He was 81. Enthroned on 14 September 1980 in St. George Patriarchal Cathedral in Damascus, Patriarch Ignatius Zakka was a prolific author, pastor and ecumenist, known for his work among Catholics, Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox. He also maintained warm ties with the Muslim community, including Alawis, Druze, Shiites and Sunnis. Ten days later, the church’s Holy Synod elected as patriarch 48-yearold Mar Cyril Aphrem Karim, who had guided the church’s metropolitan archeparchy in the eastern United States since 1996. Assuming the name Ignatius A p h r e m I I , t h e 123rd S y r i a c Orthodox patriarch is a native of Syria and will return there to lead the ancient church of 3.5 million people.
In March, CNEWA’s external affairs officer, the Rev. Elias D. Mallon, S.A., gave a presentation on the plight of children in need in the Middle East to a parish in Glendale, California. At a special prayer service held at Incarnation Catholic Church, Father Elias spoke to parishioners about ways CNEWA seeks to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. Incarnation has strong ties to the neighboring St. Gregory Armenian Catholic Church, which welcomed Father Elias at a liturgy celebrated by Bishop Mikael Mouradian of the Armenian Catholic Eparchy of the United States and Canada. To learn more about CNEWA’s parish and school visitation program, contact Norma Intriago at email@example.com.
A Visit to the Horn of Africa CNEWA’s Msgr. Kozar paid a pastoral visit to Ethiopia in late March and early April with Carl Hétu of CNEWA Canada and Thomas Varghese, CNEWA’s director of programs. Focusing on the many works of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, especially its care for children, the team visited schools and the Mai-Aini Refugee Camp, which houses refugees from Eritrea. Look for a fuller account of the trip online at CNEWA.ORG. New York Supports Sisters After covering the story of the Good Shepherd Sisters serving refugees in Lebanon (see Page 6), writer Diane Handal was moved to do something on her own to support the sisters and their work. She hosted a fundraising reception at her home in New York City in March. About 30 guests attended, including representatives from CNEWA. The event raised nearly $10,000.
Only on the Web
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There’s more to discover about CNEWA’s world online: • E xclusive video: How CNEWA’s Beirut office works to uplift the poor in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria • A n insightful speech describing the plight of Christians in Syria by CNEWA’s Michel Constantin • In an extensive article, Father Elias Mallon compares the spiritual notion of pilgrimage in Judaism, Christianity and Islam
THESE AND MUCH MORE CAN BE FOUND AT WWW.CNEWA.ORG
FOR DAILY UPDATES, CHECK OUT CNEWA’S BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE AT CNEWABLOG.ORG
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Children in Need
Syria, Shepherds and Sheep Good Shepherd Sisters serve refugees in Lebanonâ€™s Bekaa Valley by Diane Handal
nder a tranquil, cool blue sky, families trudge across Syria’s border with Lebanon, frightened and frantic, desperate to escape the fighting that has riven their country for three years. For many, the border crossing comes as a last resort after several attempts to find a peaceful refuge in their homeland. A sea of makeshift dwellings covered with plastic — the only protection against the cold, wet winter — sits on a field in the Christian town of Bechouat in the Bekaa Valley. Sumaya Suleiman, a young mother in her 30’s, recently arrived from Talbiseh, Syria. She traveled with her four children and little else; her husband arrived later. “The Syrian army shelled our home,” says Mrs. Suleiman, dressed in the traditional hijab (headscarf) and
djellaba (a robe-like overgarment) of Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority. “At first we moved to a cousin’s house in the same village, but his house was destroyed, too.” Desperate, they moved from Talbiseh to Nabak, finding refuge in the home of a stranger. Finally, from nearby Ara, a man brought her to Arsal, Lebanon, for $300. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 2.2 million people — about half of them children — have been displaced by the war in Syria since it began in March 2011. Though many refugees do not register for fear of reprisal, the latest records suggest some 900,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon, the smallest of the bordering nations hosting refugees with an estimated population of 4.5 million.
Large rocks anchor tarps to Mrs. Suleiman’s new dwelling, holding the elements at bay. Inside the tiny structure, a gaping hole in one wall exposes the rear room, dominated by a purple couch. Two single beds sit opposite, stacked high with blankets. Mold tints the walls and the floors are dirty and cold. Just yards from the Suleimans’ temporary home looms a mass of garbage nearly two stories high. The stench from the charred remains of tires permeates the area. Screws, syringes and various scraps of rusted metal lie scattered nearby in the red dirt, some of which may call out to a child in search of a makeshift toy — such as one of her own: Ahmad, 9 years old; Esma, 7, missing her two front teeth; Mustafa, 4; and Adnam, 2.
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CNEWA has been working with the Good Shepherd Sisters for decades. Last June, with funds from Misereor, CNEWA provided Sister Micheline Lattouff with support to help her launch her school in Bechouat for some 200 Syrian refugee children. This support included heating fuel, expenses for hiring 11 Syrian teachers and social workers, transportation for students, books and school supplies, counseling for children affected by posttraumatic stress disorders, a daily snack and a hot meal once a week.
CNEWA has further assisted the sisters in providing refugee families with food and winter kits that included coats and blankets; CNEWA has also helped install 20 water tanks in the camps. To lend your support to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, call: 1.800.442.6392 (United States) or 1.866.322.4441 (Canada).
Mrs. Suleiman has repeatedly pleaded with the municipality to clean up the dump. Rats enter their home after nightfall, and at times the stench becomes unbearable. Still, she says, they ignore her requests. Instead, the municipal authorities often treat the refugees as an embarrassment. Recently, they ordered several families to move because their dwellings were too close to the road — an eyesore for people entering the village, which has been a pilgrimage destination for Lebanon’s Christians for more than a century.
Such indignities, however, remain far preferable to the conditions in Syria. “Two cousins were killed in a bombing,” Mrs. Suleiman recounts. “And a niece and nephew died in an air raid.” Her brother, a university professor, has been in prison for two years. Her husband, Abdel, is a farmer. Two years ago, the Syrian army burned the land they owned in Talbiseh. Since then, the family has had no reliable source of income. In the Bekaa Valley, he searches for employment as a day laborer, but work in this mainly agricultural region is scarce in the winter months. Neighbors sometimes help by sharing food, despite limited means. But Mrs. Suleiman has found a consistent source of relief in the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Even in this setting, she and her family have found love, compassion and basic necessities thanks to Sister Micheline Lattouff.
here is an ancient saying, ‘ The candle that is just smoking, not lighted, still has a life in it, still has hope in it,’ ” says Sister Micheline. “I have no right to turn it off. I believe that even if a person is in a very bad situation, my mission is to show him the spark and light it.” She began this journey at the age of 17. While on a high school retreat, she met a Lebanese sister of the Good Shepherd who had lived in Sudan and worked with women prisoners. “These women were in bad shape — no toilets, no sanitary napkins — losing their dignity with no one to help them,” she says. “I was inspired that these were not nuns who just prayed; they were nuns who helped the poor. “That is when I decided to become a Good Shepherd sister,” she says. “The mission of the Good Shepherd Sisters is to defend the
rights of women, children and families — to help them regain their dignity.” Sister Micheline is passionate about that mission. Following four years at the University of the Holy Spirit, near Beirut, Sister Micheline went to Senegal and worked for a year and a half at a community center teaching women to sew and cook. She came to discover another reality in Senegal. “The Senegalese people opened my eyes to cultural differences.” More importantly, she says, they opened her eyes to the humanity that transcends those differences. She arrived in the Bekaa Valley in 2004, seven years before the war in Syria began, and soon began teaching in nearby Deir el Ahmar. “I felt this region needed support, like sheep without a shepherd,” says the 44-year-old sister, citing concerns such as high rates of illiteracy. According a 2009 study by the United Nations Development Program, some 16.8 percent of adults in the Bekaa region cannot read — the highest rate in Lebanon. Many students drop out, drifting away from school to focus on farm work. Worse still, many become embroiled in the drug trade, which thrives in the region due to the cultivation of cannabis crops. “The children were watering the hashish,” she says. “So, I started thinking: ‘What can I do for the children in this area?’ ” Wasting no time, the nun sought resources — faculty volunteers, a public space and basic materials — and in late 2005 started an after-school program. It opened for just two hours each afternoon, but those two hours allowed for healthy socializing, study and play. It gave students another choice in how to spend their time, and provided an incentive to stay in school. But she did not stop there.
Hired vans bus students home from the Good Shepherd Sisters’ community center. PREVIOUS SPREAD: Sumaya Suleiman's children play by the edge of the garbage dump near their refuge in Bechouat.
In 2006, Sister Micheline asked a charitable organization in Monaco that specializes in education and aid for children in need to help with rent for three years. This paved the way to an important partnership. In 2008, she received $20,000 from the group to buy three-quarters of an acre. A year later, she received more than $200,000 to build a community center. Other charities provided assistance to paint, furnish and equip the center. Before long, a desire to serve the children of the region had grown into a full-fledged institution. “Every year I felt the hand of God in the program. When I asked for something, I got it,” says Sister Micheline.
hese efforts not only made a difference in the community, but also laid important groundwork. In 2012, refugees from Syria began to arrive in the Bekaa Valley en masse, and
Sister Micheline and her fellow sisters rushed to lend assistance. Drawing upon every resource at their disposal, they provided food and water, winter clothing and fuel. More than just material assistance, however, the sisters offered emotional support — visiting with refugee families, spending time with mothers and children, listening with genuine interest and above all sharing something often taken for granted: human presence and compassion. Last but not least, they began using their community center to host classes for Syrian refugee children, some of whom had not attended school since the war began. Two vans now make five trips a day, picking up and dropping off a total of 240 students ranging from kindergarten to the sixth grade. Sisters and lay teachers from among the Syrian refugees lead classes in Arabic, English, French, geography, history, math, science
and social studies, following the Syrian curriculum. The school has the hallmarks of a Catholic parochial school: order and cleanliness reign. Students sit erect in their seats, eager to participate, and an environment of mutual respect pervades the school. “They used to come all muddy and dirty,” says Good Shepherd Sister Rita Hadchity, the youngest member of their community at 36 years old. The sisters subsequently began a health and cleanliness campaign to which the students took very well. “It is a project of God,” says Sister Micheline. “God loves his children and he would not want them to suffer.” Sister Rita says the United Nations supplies food to their program, hoping it will encourage parents to send children to class instead of to work. “And that is working,” Sister Rita says.
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These children are far from home But you can give them hope Support Syria's smallest refugees www.cnewa.org
Moreover, subsequent partnership with CNEWA has even enabled them to expand their program. Still, from grades four through six, the classes grow noticeably smaller. Some boys at this age must become breadwinners for their families, working in the fields to harvest potatoes, onions and wheat on a full-time basis for a pittance. Girls also take on work, cleaning houses and babysitting. In Lebanon, some 80 percent of Syrian children are not enrolled in school. According to UNHCR, the number of Syrian school-age children will soon exceed that of Lebanese students. Sumaya Suleiman says her two eldest children attended school in Syria only three days in September 2013. Then, the school was shelled. Mrs. Suleiman has asked the sisters to enroll them, but for now, the school is overflowing. Turning people away is heartbreaking, Sister Micheline says. “That is the most difficult part — when I have a lot of refugee people and I have nothing to give them.” Her dream is to build another school to accommodate those she presently cannot. Mrs. Suleiman remains grateful for the assistance she has received from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, including a variety of jackets, shoes for the children and
many other household essentials. Sister Micheline’s ongoing work shows that even one person can make a difference in the lives of families torn apart by war. “I feel that day after day all our activities are being guided by God for the success of children. God is always supporting us,” she says.
n the second-grade class, 31 students range in age from 7 to 10. From an earlier lesson, the whiteboard still carries verb conjugations in English: “I am,” “you are,” “he is.” The sisters hand out books and red, yellow or pink plastic backpacks emblazoned with cartoon characters — such as a smiling Dora the Explorer — to every student. The students are asked to draw pictures of the life they remember in Syria. The drawings are filled with images of blood and guns and bombs — a sad insight into the minds of children scarred by the horrors they have witnessed. A little boy with cropped, jet-black hair and a steel-gray sweater draws three red figures on the left smiling and holding big orange assault rifles. He says these are the rebel soldiers. Across from them stand two red figures firing back. They are Syrian army soldiers, he says. Neither of them is smiling. Above, three blue planes drop bombs on an
orange tank. A figure covered in red falls from one of the planes. The wall of a nearby yellow house has been erased and redrawn with jagged edges. This illustrtion is drawn from Alaa al Lemat’s memory of life in Syria. But life in the Bekaa valley could not be more different; electricity, running water and paved roads are scarce, but violence is rare. Sister Micheline has few of the resources she needs to meet the overwhelming needs of the growing flood of refugees coming across the border. However, she does not allow herself to be deterred. She has made it her mission to ease their suffering and bring hope. “The best moment for me is when I see the children happy, successful in their studies and their lives,” Sister Micheline says, “when I see them able to overcome the difficulties and continue to achieve.” As for the future, Sister Micheline Lattouff does not look too far ahead, believing instead that God wants her to be here. “I feel like God is holding my hand and leading me. God is talking to me through the events, and telling me how to help solve this.” Journalist Diane Handal has worked with the Associated Press and covers events in the Middle East for ONE. READ DIANE HANDAL'S IMPRESSIONS OF HER VISIT TO LEBANON AT OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:
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cnewablog.org/web/ dianehandal AND YOU CAN WATCH AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR AT: onemagazinehome.org/ web/lebanon
p Alaa, a 7-year-old from Homs, holds up a drawing depicting events in his hometown.
q Sister Micheline addresses the students gathered at the center before serving them a hot meal.
p Bathayna Issa and her son Abdel Ahad, refugees from Hassake, sit in their new home in Bechouat.
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Children in Need
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Franciscan sisters bring hope to visually impaired children in Egypt by Sarah Topol
or most of Gerges’s childhood, he could scramble and play outside with his little brother, but with difficulty. Gerges was born with a visual impairment — he can only see light and dark. There were no facilities for blind or partially sighted students in his impoverished village, and though he was enrolled in school, keeping up was impossible. “Writing was very difficult for me,” he says. “I couldn’t see the letters.” Living in a hamlet near the city of Sohag in Upper Egypt, some 285 miles south of Cairo, Gerges did not know any other children like him; the only visually impaired people in his village were two elderly blind men. His father, a farmer of limited means, was not sure what to do.
When the local parish youth group heard about the Santa Lucia Home, a special boarding facility for blind children run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Egypt’s Mediterranean city of Alexandria, they told the family at once. Though concerned an older child would have trouble catching up in school — the Santa Lucia Home usually admits younger children, starting boarders from the age of 4 or 5 — the sisters welcomed Gerges with open arms. The boy was afraid, however. “I was leaving my family and I was worried they were sending me to some kind of jail,” he remembers. That was three years ago, when he was 11, and Gerges took to Braille with gusto. “It was easy to catch on, it came quickly,” he says. “It’s amazing, now I can read and write.”
Today, Gerges is thriving, recognized as of one of the program’s best students. A sensitive boy who is always asking everyone how they feel and what he can do to help, he likes to garden and has decorated the nave of the adjoining Santa Lucia Church with flourishing golden pothos vines. Recently, he started learning to play the keyboard. In Egypt, children with special needs such as Gerges have many disadvantages. Yet at Santa Lucia, the nurturing environment and commitment to higher learning provides some balance. Named for the fourth-century saint and patron of the blind, St. Lucy — who, according to tradition, was blinded before her martyrdom — the home encourages children to rise above their limitations. They are taught
Abanoub Sherif carries a beekeeperâ€™s hat to his fatherâ€™s apiary near their home in El Mahalla.
In 1984, a CNEWA grant helped to establish the Santa Lucia Center in the Abou Kir neighborhood of Alexandria. The center — which includes the home for the blind, a dispensary and a primary school — has made a huge impact on the lives of the Christians in the area.
Over the past 30 years, CNEWA’s generous donors have been a source of continued support for the Santa Lucia Center, building the primary school, rehabilitating the dispensary, upgrading the infrastructure of the home for the blind and providing it with furniture and specialized equipment, such as Braille typewriters, and ongoing support for the children enrolled there.
After a study session, students Enjy Yussef, left, and Nermeen Said stroll the halls to unwind before dinner.
To become a part of this tradition of loving support, call: 1.800.442.6392 (United States) or 1.866.322.4441 (Canada).
that nothing is beyond their reach, and the children are expected to shine. “We teach them independence,” says Sister Souad Nohra, the director of the home. At the home, children who once might have spent their lives in the shadows — helpless or hopeless — are receiving an incalculable gift. Darkness is giving way to light.
he center cares for 5 girls and 11 boys between the ages of 4 and 18. Most students come from poor farming villages in Upper Egypt or the outskirts of Alexandria. The sisters
RIGHT: Myven Aihab prepares for winter exams and hopes one day to pursue a degree in anthropology.
provide for every need — from clothes and books to food and extracurricular activities, such as sports and music. They also organize field trips to the beach. Upstairs in the center’s immaculately clean dormitory, the children have their own numbered cupboards. The children are expected to dress themselves. At meal times, students procure their own cups and silverware from dining room drawers, and then clean up after themselves. “They have to know they can do these things by themselves. They are very proud; they don’t have to depend on anyone,” says Sister Souad.
The sisters run a tight ship. At 5:45 a.m., the children wake up to get ready for school and eat breakfast. They are expected on the center’s private bus an hour later. The children go to specialized government schools for the blind — the boys head to El Nour School in Alexandria’s Muharram Bey neighborhood, while the girls attend another school in the Zizina area. They return by 4 p.m. and eat lunch. Then it is homework time until dinner at 7, followed by free time until bed. Bedtimes vary based on age: on weekdays, 8:30 for younger children and 9 for older students.
The two study rooms on the ground floor of the home are pristine. Sturdy wooden desks, absent the graffiti commonly found in classrooms, are arranged in rows. Older students share three Perkine Braillers to type in English, French and Arabic. Sister Souad has recently ordered five more and is waiting for them to arrive to surprise the students. A U.S. import, the machines are a luxury in Egypt. If one breaks, Sister Souad has to ship them to the states for repair — the expertise for fixing Braillers, she explains, does not exist in Egypt. The younger children learn to read and write Braille by hand, using a stylus and plastic slate — using a metal pin, they imprint each dot through a prearranged tablet. The center also has one computer that runs screen-reading software, allowing children to practice their typing skills without Braille. This technology has quickly become more common for teaching blind children in the West, but is still rare in Egypt. If children have trouble with a class at school, the center brings in a tutor to make sure they catch up. Sister Souad says all their children go on to attend university, with many majoring in history, literature and English-language studies. “We are very serious about education,” Sister Souad adds. But the children have spare time for fun, too. Every Saturday, the center holds a two- to three-hour music class for the students, who learn to play the guitar and keyboard. They sing hymns and compose their own music. If children want one-onone music lessons, the sisters are happy to arrange it. In the recreational room, there is a Braille library. Children can read a variety of books, including the Bible. A huge flat-screen television hangs from the wall and children love watching soccer — a sport where every play is narrated.
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F You can be their light Give today to help the children of Egypt tomorrow www.cnewa.org
Surprisingly, to the sisters, the kids are incredibly interested in politics and follow the news at night. “We are always asking them what is going on and to explain it to us!” Sister Souad exclaims, laughing. “They listen to everything.” The children recently requested a Braille copy of Egypt’s new constitution, which passed in January 2014, so they could read and discuss it. The center’s oldest resident, an 18-year-old girl, went to cast her ballot on the constitutional referendum, which passed by 98 percent last January. Sister Hoda, the matron of the program, took her to a polling station. There, a judge asked her which way she wanted to vote and, with Sister Hoda as a witness, certified the young woman’s ballot as she solemnly endorsed the new constitution. “She was so proud that day, expressing her equal citizenship,” sister adds.
or the children under the sisters’ care, the Santa Lucia Home is a buffer from greater challenges facing Egypt. In this impoverished country of 85 million, child malnutrition remains a serious problem. Some 30 percent of children live under the national poverty line. This poverty is compounded in Upper Egypt, the native region of most of the center’s children. There, the poverty rate exceeds 50 percent according to a 2012 UNICEF report. In September 2012, a national survey reported that 86 percent of vulnerable families said their
Egypt’s government passed measures to protect the rights of disabled people in a 1975 law, which was later amended in 1982. The law sets an employment quota of five percent for all public and private sector companies with more than 50 employees. Even with this in place, finding a job is still difficult. Companies that violate the law face small penalties, but they are rarely enforced and discrimination is rife. Egypt has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world. According to the World Health
“We teach them there is nothing they can’t do.” incomes were insufficient to cover monthly needs. Access to proper health care and sanitary water also remain a challenge. Poverty and health care are not the only hurdles Egyptian children face. The country’s schools are generally overcrowded, with classes regularly containing between 40 and 50 children. According to UNICEF’s Egypt program, one in five school buildings are not fit for use and lack functional water and sanitation facilities. The curriculum relies on rote memorization and lacks an emphasis on critical thinking. For children with any kind of disability, this weak system is even more problematic. According to a U.N. report on the rights of people with disabilities in Egypt, children with special needs are frequently stigmatized and socially excluded, leading to marginalization in many aspects of life. This can result in poor health, deficient education and a higher risk of abuse.
Organization, between 3.3 and 5.6 percent of the population has a visual impairment. The most common cause of blindness in the country is trachoma, a preventable eye infection common in the developing world, caused by a microorganism that spreads through contact with eye discharge from an infected person or flies. Repeated infections cause blindness, but Egypt’s health care facilities are just not up to par to treat infections, especially among the most at-risk populations — women and children. A 2001 study by the Egypt’s Ministry of Health, the British Columbia Center for Epidemiologic and International Ophthalmology, and Al Nour Foundation found that active trachoma in the delta governorate of Menofiya (which lies between Alexandria and Cairo) was present in 36.5 percent of children examined between the ages of 2 and 6.
anta Lucia is one of the few facilities in the country actively trying to ensure blind children grow into adults cognizant of their rights as citizens. But the country’s current political turmoil and security situation has complicated their efforts. Since the revolution, sectarian attacks have been on the rise and enrollment has dropped. The sisters think the reason they are not operating to full capacity is family fear of being separated from their children during these uncertain times. “I hope things will get better and I pray for it. But for now, the parents are afraid,” says Sister Hoda.
banoub is a 17-year-old student from El Mahalla el Kubra, an industrial city in the Nile Delta about two hours’ drive from Cairo. When he first came to the home at the age of 5,
he admits, he was terrified. “But then I got used to the place and I felt that I wanted to stay there forever. I built a new life for myself and made new friends,” he says. He is currently in his second year of high school and wants to attend college and major in psychology. He recently started learning the guitar. But the transition from a school for the blind to a university can be a challenge. Sister Souad says they begin preparing children for the task from day one. “We tell them, ‘One day, you will leave here and go to university with all kinds of people around.’ Since they are prepared, the transition is normal. We encourage them to take recorders to class, then listen again at home. They study normally.” One of their students recently received a scholarship to study in the United States.
“I hope other blind children learn that going away from their family is not that difficult; it can be much better for their future,” Abanoub says. “We teach them there is nothing they can’t do,” Sister Souad says proudly. “They are normal children. The only difference is they cannot see, but that doesn’t mean they can’t live a normal life.” A frequent contributor to ONE, Sarah Topol’s writing has been published in The Atlantic, Esquire and The New York Times. SARAH TOPOL SHARES MORE ABOUT HER VISIT TO EGYPT AND THE SANTA LUCIA HOME AT OUR BLOG: cnewablog.org/web/ sarahtopol
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Faith With just five priests in the country, Armenian Catholics in Georgia persevere text and photographs by Molly Corso
At Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Tbilisi, parishioners greet one another during the Kiss of Peace.
fter generations of Soviet oppression, Georgia’s Armenian Catholics still labor to rebuild their community and their faith. Soviet Georgia’s bureaucrats suppressed Armenian Catholic parishes, imprisoned priests and boarded churches, but they failed to dampen Armenian Catholic faith and resolve. Ironically, that resolve is in jeopardy in the reasonably open and democratic Republic of Georgia. Latin (Roman) Catholic priests returned to Georgia in 1992, quickly reanimating parish life in two historic Latin parishes in the capital of Tbilisi. But it was not until 2002 that Tbilisi, home to more than 80,000 Armenians, received its first Armenian Catholic priest. Today, there are just five Armenian Catholic priests to tend to nearly 20,000 believers scattered throughout the country. Most live in a wide swath of villages southwest of Tbilisi in the predominantly Armenian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, but the Georgian capital was, until a hundred years ago, the region’s largest Armenian-populated city. The lack of priests on the ground means Armenian Catholics living in cities such as Borjomi, Ozurgeti and Chiatura attend Latin parishes, a phenomenon that impacts all Eastern Catholics where clergy and parishes are nonexistent. This means that a way of life, as well as a faith tradition, is imperiled. More Armenian Catholics are finding themselves disconnected from centuries of tradition without access to the sacraments and rites that have been a part of their faith and, in fact, their identity. Yet, defying the odds, they stand firm. To spend time with Georgia’s Armenian Catholics is to rediscover the deep reservoirs of piety and purpose — and a remarkable strength of character — that have defined them for generations. OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF CNEWA
It is also to realize, above all, that the story of Georgia’s Armenian Catholics is one of unwavering faith.
he Soviet period was a time of oppression for Armenian Catholic families,” says Tbilisi’s Rev. Mikael Khachkalian, the only Armenian Catholic priest in the city, of the challenges facing his flock in Georgia. “The Soviet Communist regime’s deliberate policy gave birth to another problem — the Armenians of Tbilisi in particular don’t have a good command of the Armenian language, knowledge about their national Christian tradition and their rich, centuries-old history.” Father Khachkalian estimates that around 80 percent of those worshiping in Tbilisi’s two Catholic parishes are in fact ethnic Armenians. The same problem exists around the country, outside the predominantly Armenian Catholic villages in southwestern Georgia, where the Armenian language and culture dominate. Yet even in these villages, the heart of Armenian Catholicism in the Caucasus, challenges exist. Priests must travel travel hundreds of miles in wretched conditions to provide the sacraments to far-flung congregations in shrinking communities largely empty of its men, most of whom have abandoned their families for work in Russia. Solakat Davolian, 75, attends liturgy every morning in the small makeshift chapel in the Armenian Catholic center in Tbilisi, yet she prefers to attend Mass every Sunday afternoon at the Latin parish of Sts. Peter and Paul downtown. Before Armenian Catholic priests arrived in Tbilisi, Armenian Catholics were served by Polishspeaking missionaries. This, Mrs. Davolian says, made participation in the life of the community a
challenge. “Now that there is an Armenian priest, I come every day,” she explains. “It was hard before; we could not understand the language. Now, thank God, it is much easier.” When Father Khachkalian began serving Tbilisi’s Armenian Catholic community, his tiny congregation was weakened by factions and disputes. Today, however, more than 100 children regularly attend liturgies and classes on Saturday and adults take part in weekly religious classes every Friday. Mrs. Davolian notes with pride that the liturgies are nearly always full. A fellow parishioner, Anaida Kochiani, attributes the attendance to Father Khachkalian’s outreach and enthusiasm to reconnect ethnic Armenians with their faith. She says his work has had a great impact on the community — including her own family. Mrs. Kochiani had stopped practicing her faith and says she even discouraged her son from attending the Soorp Badarak, the Armenian eucharistic liturgy. But, several years ago, when her husband fell ill, Father Khachkalian visited him regularly in the hospital. His commitment convinced Mrs. Kochiani to reconsider her relationship to the church. When she began attending liturgies, she was so impressed by the priest’s efforts at community outreach that she decided to volunteer to teach children the Armenian language. Language is key to preserving faith and identity for Armenian Catholics, she explains. “Step by step, the children forget their language, forget their culture, they forget who they are.” The weekly classes also help adults return to their roots, Mrs. Kochiani adds, noting the group is steadily working its way through the catechism one week at a time. Before, she says, religion was something she thought could wait
â€œI never considered going to another faith.â€?
Until a priest arrived in 2002, parishioners found it difficult to preserve and celebrate their faith. The arrival of priests, such as Father Khachkalian (center photo), has revived Tbilisiâ€™s Armenian Catholics.
Since Georgia’s independence, CNEWA’s initiatives there have taken a variety of forms. Working primarily through Caritas Georgia — the official charity of Georgia’s Armenian, Chaldean and Roman Catholic churches — CNEWA has supported works addressing the needs of Georgia’s vulnerable populations — particularly homeless pensioners, street children, the disabled and families affected by war and civil strife. To learn what you can do to join CNEWA’s efforts in Georgia, call 1.800.442.6392 (United States) or 1.866.322.4441 (Canada).
for when she had time. Now, however, she makes time for it, carving out of her hectic schedule enough room every Saturday afternoon to work with the community’s children. On a typical sunny Saturday, Mrs. Kochiani coaches four ethnic Armenian teenage girls through a vocabulary lesson, switching to Russian and Georgian to prompt the girls when they forget a word. In a small room tucked in between the chapel and the kitchen, there are frequent interruptions. Students wander in for other classes and the steady bass beat of Armenian music reverberates from the folk dance workshop in the center’s basement. “Of course we love and respect Georgia very much. We were born here, but we are preserving, as much as possible, Armenian culture,” she says. “We are trying as we can to teach the children, so they can at least feel that they are Armenian.” She notes that while some Georgian nationalists have “pretenses” against Armenian Christians — especially Armenian Catholics — they are largely accepted in society.
ut in the resort town of Borjomi, some 96 miles from the capital, Catholics — a handful of ethnic Armenians and Georgians — encounter challenges from some segments of society who hold fast to the idea that to be a loyal Georgian is to be Georgian Orthodox. Patima Aitsuradze, who hosts Borjomi’s tiny Catholic community in her home every week, says school teachers have told her children they will “go to hell” for practicing their Catholicism. Neighbors question why a priest and strangers enter her house, where the liturgy is celebrated weekly. “They think it is a sect of some kind. They don’t understand — they ask ‘why don’t you go to a church?’ ” There has never been a Catholic church in Borjomi, Mrs. Aitsuradze notes, adding that locals simply do not know enough about the faith. Her makeshift chapel occupies her home’s balcony, walled in for warmth. Pictures of Christ and candles share a wall with peeling wallpaper and chipped paint. Just a handful of people come every week, she says.
Her children have made peace with belonging to a faith tradition many Orthodox believers in town do not understand, Mrs. Aitsuradze says. “People are so silly,” she sighs. But in a bid to fit in, her family has taken to celebrating Orthodox holidays as well as Catholic ones. “There is nothing bad about it,” she says. “God is one, there is no real difference. The children have a faith, they think it is funny that people don’t understand.” Discrimination against religious minorities in Georgia, however, is anything but funny, according to Beka Mindiashvili, the head of the Tolerance Center at the Georgian Public Defender Office. “Religious minorities in general are in a tough position in Georgia,” he says. “Armenians themselves are also in a difficult position as an ethnic minority. There are negative stereotypes,” Mr. Mindiashvili explains. “We can say that all religious minorities face a difficult situation; they all have their own problems. Considering the minority of the minority, that is also an interesting issue.” Armenian Catholics have fewer resources and less influence than the larger, more institutionalized Armenian Apostolic Church, for example. While Armenian Catholic priests, including Father Mikael Khachkalian, have expressed concern with the “Latinization” of ethnic Armenian communities, Mr. Mindiashvili notes there has not been any major conflict between the two.
ne of the main problems for any religious minority — including the Armenian Catholic Church — is building a church, he says. While there are no laws in Georgia that prohibit a religious organization from building
Armenians have the gift of faith Help sustain it
a church, in reality, the task can be a tricky proposition. In Tbilisi, a house bought in 2002 has been outfitted to include the only Armenian Catholic chapel in the capital. The dreary exterior — devoid of any crosses or religious iconography — reveals none of the warmth or character of an Armenian sanctuary. But the lack of a real church, Father Khachkalian explains, is a “fundamental problem” for the community. The chapel can only hold 30 people — a fraction of the faithful. In addition, the building is in need of repairs. While Father Khachkalian is attempting to register Tbilisi’s Armenian Catholic Center as a church, there is no guarantee that he will do so successfully. Mr. Mindiashvili stresses there are no outstanding cases of Armenian Catholics or other religious minorities being denied the right to build a church. But, once built, there have been conflicts. When the Chaldean Catholic community built a church in Tbilisi, Georgian nationalists surrounded it until Mr. Mindiashvili and his staff intervened.
And yet, the faith endures. For Solakat Davolian, the current challenges pale in comparison to the problems she faced in the past. Today, all five of her grandchildren have been baptized Armenian Cotholic — a ritual the faithful had to hide for generations during the Soviet Union. Despite the hardships she has encountered, Mrs. Davolian says giving up the faith of her parents and grandparents for the sake of convenience was never an option: “I never considered going to another faith.” The writing of Tbilisi-based photojournalist Molly Corso has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and EurasiaNet.org. FOR MORE ON THE ARMENIAN CATHOLICS OF GEORGIA, READ MOLLY CORSO’S REFLECTIONS AT OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:
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Care for Marginalized
“Father of the Poor” Honoring the legacy of Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam by Jose Kavi
Archbishop Kundukulam greets the children at St. Christina’s Home in Trichur.
wenty-six years ago, Mary Pallipadan walked from her home to collect firewood. As she worked, a limb fell from a tree and struck her head, severely injuring her spinal cord. Her family could not afford to provide her with the extensive medical care she needed — the blow had crippled the young woman permanently — so they turned to a nearby facility in a quiet village, Peringandoor, not far from the bustling southwestern Indian city of Trichur. Ms. Pallipadan recalls how difficult it had been to accept that she would have to depend on others for everything. But “I have no complaints, now,” she says. The 46-year-old woman lives with some 150 women, men and children with major physical disabilities at the John Paul Peace Home. Named to commemorate the sainted pope’s visit to India in 1986, Peace Home is only one part of the legacy of the late Syro-Malabar Catholic archbishop of Trichur, Mar Joseph Kundukulam, who spent his life bringing hope to thousands in Kerala, including Mary Pallipadan. Mar Joseph, she recalls, used to visit the Peace Home to encourage her and others to understand their situation as a special grace from God. Clutching her rosary, Ms. Pallipadan explains she spends much of her time now in devout contemplation, praying for the intentions of a long list of people. “I have lots of time to pray,” she adds. One of these intentions is the recognition of the sanctity of the former archbishop, known here as the “father of the poor.” Mar Joseph died in Kenya in 1998 visiting a newly established house of Nirmala Dasi Sisters, a community he helped found in 1971. Translated from the Malayalam, the local vernacular, as the “Servants of God,” the Nirmala Dasi Sisters often serve as the primary agents of Mar Joseph’s works to serve the poor,
Single mothers and their children find a loving family at St. Christina’s Home.
the marginalized or those too feeble to care for themselves. The community felt orphaned after his death, Nirmala Dasi Superior General Rosily Pidiyath recalls from the community’s tiny parlor in their motherhouse in Mulayam, near Trichur. The sisters are not alone. People cared for by the archbishop echo these sentiments, and hundreds will tell you they are alive today because he came forward to help when others had abandoned them. “Before going to Africa, pithavu [or “father,” a term for a bishop] had come to ask for our prayers for the success of the trip,” Ms. Pallipadan remembers clearly. Sixteen years after he died, Mar Joseph Kundukulam has left behind a remarkable legacy — a testament to a man who, even in death, continues to touch hearts and change lives.
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CNEWA has a long history of partnership with the Nirmala Dasi Sisters, providing support for many of the institutions founded by Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam and administered by the sisters — including St. Christina’s, Savio and Grace Homes. Through CNEWA, benefactors throughout North America have provided everything from muchneeded renovations of aging buildings to food and an education for children as well as support for single mothers. To aid where the need is greatest in Kerala, call: 1.800.442.6392 (United States) or 1.866.322.4441 (Canada).
s a young priest, Joseph Kundukulam was no stranger to charitable work. But his outreach to the poorest of the poor began in earnest when he was appointed pastor of St. Anne’s Church in Padinjarekotta, a suburb of Trichur. One day, a young woman carrying an infant asked the young priest for a place to stay. She was single, abandoned after the father of her child learned she had become pregnant. Her family had disowned her for her indiscretion. Father Joseph had to break the news that he had no shelter to offer. Hours later, he found the young woman and her child still waiting for him. When he asked her what else she needed, she requested a
“ He wanted to these people that needed and small sum of money — little more than pocket change — to buy poison so she could kill herself and her child. Her request shocked the priest, who immediately worked with the parish to find some way to accommodate her. He began to search for a more permanent way to help the young mother and others in her situation. Before long, he found a priest in Germany who offered him funds to start a new facility, on the condition the center be named after the patron saint of his parish in the heart of Europe. Since its founding in 1967, St. Christina’s Home has sheltered some 4,000 single mothers and their children, says the vice superior of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters, Chinnamma Kunnakatt, who has been working in the center for more than a decade. And because St. Christina’s Home focused on the care of mothers and their toddlers only, the young pastor founded Savio Home, which cares for children 5 years of age and older. These were only the beginning. Time spent visiting with poor families and learning of their hardships led to the foundation of Mercy Home, dedicated to caring for developmentally delayed persons; St. Joseph’s Home and Home of Life, which provide care for the elderly; Peace Home for the physically disabled; Snehashram, which works to rehabilitate and reintegrate prisoners; and Divine Mercy Ashram (or “monastery”), which cares for street children.
otably, Mar Joseph planned a home for people infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, soon after the disease emerged in India in 1986. The Rev. Varghese Palathingal, who directed the archeparchy’s social service department for more than 25 years, says the archbishop knew little about the disease. “People told him it was highly contagious and spread through air. But such rumors did not deter him from reaching out to patients,” says the 58-year-old priest. The home, however, was not completed until after his death. The Mar Kundukulam Memorial Research and Rehabilitation Center is better known as Grace Home. Its director, the Rev. Johnson Anthikad, works with the Nirmala Dasi Sisters to fulfill Mar Joseph’s dream: “He wanted to assure these people that they are needed and wanted.” The home has provided treatment to some 2,000 people and has served as a hospice to around 450 in the past 15 years, according to Sisters Roselyn Kaduthedathuparambil and Mary Manjaly, who care for the patients. They say many patients have returned to their homes following an improvement in health. Initially, Father Anthikad reports that neighbors had opposed the center. But after the home admitted a local patient, the attitude changed. “They now come to help us and attend our functions,” he adds. “Archbishop Kundukulam was a very unique church leader. His
assure they are wanted.” thinking and action varied very much from other bishops of his time,” says Father Varghese Palathingal. This, he adds, is what prompted him to write the first biography of the archbishop, documenting his decades of work among India’s marginalized populations. Mar Joseph had a lot in common with the current bishop of Rome, Francis, says the priest. “Pope Francis is demystifying the papacy by reaching out to the poor and marginalized. Archbishop Joseph was also a shepherd who smelled like his sheep.” The similarities do not end there. Auxiliary Bishop Raphael Thattil of Trichur, another close associate and confidante of Mar Joseph, compares Pope Francis’ election to the episcopal appointment of Joseph Kundukulam, describing both as the work of the Holy Spirit. “All his predecessors were great scholars who came from aristocratic families. It was unthinkable that a person from an ordinary farmer’s family who had just a basic education had become the bishop of Trichur, the cradle of the Syriac Christian faith,” he says.
s a student, Joseph Kundukulam had failed the examination required for admission into St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary. Though he succeeded on his second try, his uncle, a priest, still had to pressure the seminary to admit him.
Nirmala Dasi Sisters visit with women and children in a poor neighborhood of Kokkalai, a district of Trichur.
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After his ordination in 1942, he quickly became immersed in pastoral ministry, proving to be “an extraordinarily successful parish priest,” Bishop Raphael says. “When we were young, Father Joseph was the most popular priest in our eparchy.” His wild popularity and skilled leadership prompted Rome to appoint him bishop in 1970. Soon, he set about rewriting all traditional notions in Kerala about bishops and their work. Before he took over the eparchy, people had little access to the bishop’s residence, a century-old two-story building in the heart of Trichur, the cultural capital of the state of Kerala. Guards stopped people at the main gate some 100 yards away from the building. Then Bishop Joseph stunned the eparchial curia when he asked them not to stop anyone coming to see him. He took his table and chair to the veranda outside his room on the second floor and met people there. All that mattered to the new bishop were problems and their solutions, and he let nothing else
come in the way. People flocked to this informal hierarch, knowing he would not only listen to them, but try to help. “And they came in large numbers at all times,” Bishop Raphael recalls. He never missed a chance to be with the people. He would attend all public functions to which he was invited — another break from the tradition. The act of building the church, he adds, did not consist of lighting candles at an altar, but dressing those wounded in life’s battles. The fountain for such profound thoughts and actions was his deep spiritual life, says Mar Andrews Thazhath, the current archbishop of Trichur, who had observed the late prelate closely during his 12-year tenure as an official of the archeparchy. The 62-year-old prelate says Mar Joseph “prayed long hours in morning and evening and never missed celebrating the Divine Liturgy. He always prayed the breviary before retiring, however tired he was or however late the hour.”
Mar Joseph, the archbishop adds, knew his limitations — such as the lack of academic qualifications — and was convinced he needed God’s help to carry out his mission. He developed a spiritual life based on his pastoral activities. On the topic of the hopes some have expressed that the late archbishop be considered for sainthood in the Catholic Church, Mar Andrews says the archeparchy does not want to apply undue pressure to the cause. “If it is God’s plan, it will happen,” he says. Bishop Raphael and Father Palathingal report worshipers now flock to the archbishop’s tomb in the crypt of Our Lady of Lourdes Metropolitan Cathedral, and several miracles have been reported. The devout also travel to the room in St. Christina’s Home where he lived in his retirement, which has been converted into a museum. Sister Rosily Pidiyath remembers that the archbishop used to ask her sisters, “Will you go to heaven if you die now?” He had asked the same questions of the sisters in Kenya mere minutes before he died following a massive heart attack at the age of 81. “We are sure he is in heaven,” she affirms.
ar Joseph Kundukulam had great influence on people throughout Kerala. “He pulled crowds,” Bishop Raphael says, and stoked their generosity. People opened their hearts to him because they found solace in his words; they opened their purses to him because they found trustworthiness in his actions. P. M. Thomas, a Trichur businessman who had collaborated with the archbishop in launching several projects, says people never hesitated when he asked for funds. “Other church leaders just tell us to give money. But in Archbishop
Joseph’s case we could see what he did with the money.” Therambil Ramakrishnan, another associate of the late archbishop, has been representing Trichur in Kerala’s legislative assembly for the past 25 years. “He had a great capacity to organize and excellent oratory skills that thrilled people.” Mr. Ramakrishnan adds that Mar Joseph never judged people on the basis of their religion or caste. “While serving the interest of his community, he paid equal attention to encourage people of other religions,” says the Hindu politician. “All of Kerala used to wait for his responses to various issues the state faced.” Perhaps the late prelate’s most striking trait was his ability to lift the spirits of those around him. People felt happy and contented in his presence, his old associates recall. That contentment is still
evident among those his institutions serve — and those who serve them. Nirmala Dasi Sisters Elsy Maliekal and Vimla Kokkandathil live in a slum near Trichur’s railway station. The stench of raw sewage permeates the area, and their one-room home lacks basic amenities, such as running water. Nevertheless, they are happy to live there. Their day begins at 4 a.m. After celebrating the Divine Liturgy in a nearby church, they go to a medical school where they care for poor and destitute patients. They return to convent in the evening and attend to the various needs of locals. Sister Elsy says their community’s founder had taught them to find happiness even in such dreary conditions. As Albert Einstein wrote on Mahatma Gandhi’s 70th birthday, people in Trichur might say: “Generations to come will scarce
A young resident participates in evening prayer at Grace Home in Trichur.
believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.” And some, such as Mary Pallipadan, will put it all the more simply: “We miss his visits.” Jose Kavi writes about social and religious issues in India from New Delhi.
JOSE KAVI OFFERS HIS PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON ARCHBISHOP KUNDUKULAM AT OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE. FOR MORE, VISIT:
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Prayer and Protest From the front lines, a bishop describes the uprising in Ukraine by Borys Gudziak Last winter, the streets of downtown Kiev became the center of a swirling political and spiritual storm, as thousands of citizens — including priests and bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic churches — protested the actions of the government. The protests led to violence and death, with some even being hailed as martyrs. One of those at the front lines was Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic eparchy in Paris who is also president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv and head of the church’s Department of External Church Relations. ONE asked him to share with us what he saw and experienced — and to reflect on his hopes for the future of Ukraine.
vents are moving rapidly in Ukraine. The Ukrainian nation has matured considerably in the last half year, leaving behind entrenched fear and moving toward
claiming its God-given dignity. Journalists covering the recent events in Ukraine who focus on the East-West politics often miss this feature of the Ukrainian revolution: The movement that has mobilized millions has at its foundation the fundamental desire for people to live in dignity, claiming it and protecting it, even at the ultimate price: one’s own life. This “Maidan movement” — which began in November 2013 in the center of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev as a drive to support an agreement with the European Union — took on a new meaning. Borrowed from Arabic, the Ukrainian word maidan means much more than “square.” Rather, maidan is akin to agora in ancient Greek — a place of encounter, discussion and community decisionmaking. Together, Ukrainians gathered in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) grasping for something transcendental — in
fact, for something fundamentally spiritual. Youth and students; the dispossessed; the middle class; city dwellers and villagers; Orthodox Christians, Greek and Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims; and a broad range of civic institutions all came together and said: “Enough! All must be equal before the law. Corruption needs to be overcome. Violence by the government cannot be tolerated!” This was done fearlessly.
A priest stands between protesters and security forces at a rally in Kiev.
The freedom from fear could be seen in the eyes of the young men in ski helmets holding wooden shields who ran into a shower of snipers’ bullets this past 20 February. More than a thousand were injured and a hundred killed. These martyrs — publicly acclaimed as the “Heavenly Hundred” — are a moving symbol of the shift from fear to dignity in today’s Ukraine and how a manifestation of the human spirit ultimately became a revolution of democratic principles.
any things remain unforgettable from those early days in the Maidan: the regular ecumenical prayer services; the tented chapel; the order and organization of the square; the radiant faces of committed volunteers and activists; the wellcoordinated distribution of medical care, food and clothing and the psychological services; the disciplined self-defense security personnel; and the creative programs of music, theater and
poetry. The “University of the Maidan,” as observers coined those days on the square, even accumulated a library of 2,500 books. Yet, the most moving images remain of those demonstrators at prayer and of the protestors that gave their lives for the freedom and dignity of all Ukrainians. I remember visiting eight young protesters in the ophthalmological unit of a Kiev hospital. In January and February, many on the Maidan lost their eyesight; the riot police
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Since Ukraine achieved independence from the Soviet Union, CNEWA has accompanied the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. CNEWA’s benefactors have enabled us to support the fledgling Lviv Theological Academy, which has since become the Ukrainian Catholic University; assisted in the formation of priests, deacons and sisters; rushed emergency assistance to families affected by natural disasters; cared for street children; and supported pastoral and humanitarian programs of eparchies across the country. The people of Ukraine urgently need your prayers and your generous financial support. Call 1.800.442.6392 (United States) or 1.866.322.4441 (Canada).
had aimed the rubber bullets of their weapons at the protesters’ eyes. The patients were not complaining about their sacrifice. They only wanted justice for their nation. The most heart-wrenching images are connected with the funeral of our Ukrainian Catholic University history lecturer, Bohdan Solchanyk, who was gunned down on 20 February. He had told his fiancée, Marichka, a graduate of the university, that he wanted to marry her in a “new Ukraine.” “But the birth of a new Ukraine would require sacrifice,” he said. Every night I think of Bohdan and of the other young people — students, intellectuals, young fathers — whose heads and hearts
were perforated by bullets fired from snipers’ high-powered rifles. It is hard to fall asleep. They gave their lives in order that their fellow citizens may live in a just society. In the Gospel of John, Jesus reminds us: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
ack in France, where I serve the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community (as well as Ukrainian Greek Catholics living in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland), I am often asked about the active participation of the churches in the Maidan movement. This has surprised some in the secularized West and needs more explanation.
For centuries, the lands that today make up Ukraine were under various foreign powers, e.g., Austria, Hungary, Poland and Imperial Russia. Throughout these centuries of statelessness, the church has been a singular thread of historic continuity and a refuge of dignity for the Ukrainian soul. Assuming power in late 1917, the revolutionary Lenin mandated a war of terror against the church. During the first weeks of the Bolshevik presence in the Ukraine in February 1918, revolutionary soldiers captured the Orthodox metropolitan of Kiev, Vladimir Bogoyavlensky, executed him and mutilated his corpse. The Orthodox Church, which in the last years of
Bishop Boris Gudziak speaks to a crowd braving the December chill on the Maidan. RIGHT: Since police first stormed the protesters’ camp in late November, St. Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral opened its doors to serve as a refuge and field hospital.
the Imperial Russian Empire had some 100 bishops, was reduced to four active hierarchs within two decades. It was brought to its knees — tens of thousands of bishops, priests, monks and sisters were executed, as were hundreds of thousands of lay martyrs and confessors of the faith. All religious communities in Soviet Ukraine were persecuted. In 1946, after the Soviet Union absorbed parts of western Ukraine formerly under Polish control but occupied by the Nazis during World War II, Stalin outlawed the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, driving its members underground. For the next 43 years, it was the largest illegal religious body in the world
and the largest opposition group across the Soviet Union. Outlawed, mercilessly hounded and driven into the catacombs, Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church emerged from the underground as the Soviet Union unraveled with unique moral authority. With its history of swimming against the current and surviving, its strong leadership throughout the 20th and into the 21st centuries, its broadly articulated social doctrine rooted in Catholic social teaching and with its centuries-long solidarity with the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is among the most respected institutions in Ukrainian civil society today.
Understandably, then, religious communities were involved in the Maidan movement on different levels. As institutions, churches and religious communities spoke unanimously and clearly. They urged the president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his government to listen to the people, condemned violence and division in society, insisted on dialogue and morally supported calls for justice. That clear social voice remains a very important dimension, not only for Maidan, but also for the future of all Ukrainian churches. Already, the events of the last months have inspired significant renewal of ecumenical dialogue, especially between the Orthodox churches
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Stand by Ukraine Stand with the church Stand for hope
that are not otherwise in communion with each other. The churches stood together at the Maidan. Particularly noteworthy was the pastoral ministry exercised by the various churches. Global news agencies posted photos of priests in their epitrachelions (Greek for stole) among the protesters, in the shelters and field hospitals located under church cupolas and leading prayers on the Maidan. Pope Francis has said, “Pastors should have the smell of their sheep.” Ukrainian priests joined their faithful on those freezing nights. They smelled of burned tires and Maidan bonfires. Religious leaders of various communities — Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims — were on the Maidan from the first days throughout the coldest weather, under the most violent attacks. They prayed together and supported the people, even after riot police burned down the Greek Catholic tent chapel on 18 February. I have very personal memories of this dramatic day. Early that evening, just after the murderous assault began by the government’s special forces, I was in the chapel. From there I went to the stage of the Maidan to read the statement of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav
Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, begging the government to refrain from attacking unarmed protestors. As I stood on the stage, I watched how the chapel tent, the one I had prayed in just 25 minutes earlier, was burned down using incendiary grenades. One priest was able to rescue the chalice and the Evangeliary, the liturgical book containing the Gospels proclaimed during the liturgy. On 20 February, the terrible Thursday of sniper fire, clergy remained on the Maidan despite the mortal danger. They comforted the injured, absolved them of their sins and said prayers over the dying and the dead. During these months, churches in Ukraine performed the service they had provided in previous ages — protecting people physically and offering refuge from armed attack. The historic Orthodox Monastery of St. Michael the Archangel welcomed injured students fleeing riot police. Church bells warned of attacks. A small Greek Catholic monastery church and the Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection, commonly called the sobor, first sheltered as many as 1,100 protesters at night. Later, the sobor became a hospital for the injured. Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches
also served as shelters and hospitals. There have been many conversions on the Maidan and throughout Ukraine. Days on the Maidan continue to begin with an ecumenical prayer service. During the danger of the night, prayers and the singing of the national anthem are held on the hour, every hour. Faith has helped many people endure. Religious sisters distributed thousands of rosaries. Many people learned to pray. Some of those killed were buried with their newly acquired Maidan rosaries in hand.
he last months have witnessed the birth of a new nation. The Maidan has become an important platform and instrument for regulating political life in Ukraine. The nation has matured in these months and the Maidan movement, with its focus on principles and its explicit spiritual and even Christian character, has much to offer to Europe as a whole. Besieged Ukraine, presented by some as a trouble spot, has become a laboratory for freedom and justice in the post-Soviet world. In its approach to Europe, Ukraine comes not as a beggar with an outstretched hand, but as a carrier of a new consciousness of our common, God-given dignity and responsibility. Ukrainians have demonstrated remarkable restraint. With the subsequent Russian annexation of Crimea, Ukrainians have turned the other cheek. They have reached deep into the fonts of the Gospel. They have imitated Christ and the martyrs by sacrificing their lives. I can testify to the graces that flow from their generosity of spirit. I trust in the Lord’s presence and work amid these long-suffering people and in their witness to the world.
“To survive, one lived carefully.”
hen I first came to live in Ukraine 25 years ago, one of the first things that perplexed me was the atmosphere of fear and distrust. People did not express their opinions in public. This was even true of students in the classroom, who had difficulty working in groups. As a result, I sought to understand why Ukrainians were gripped by a fear as if it were a part of their very DNA. I looked to Ukrainian history. In the 20th century alone, more than 17 million people are estimated to have died violently on Ukrainian soil. World wars framed the consistent oppression of Ukrainian politicians, civic leaders, intellectuals and artists. The famines of 1932-33, chiefly caused over the collectivization of private agriculture under Stalin, cost the lives of millions. The great terror of the late 1930’s and the rise of the Gulag system silenced prominent citizens and crippled the officer corps. The Nazi German invasion, occupation and Holocaust, and the protracted fighting that followed; the Soviet deportation of almost all Crimean Tatars in 1944; the ethnic cleansing along Ukraine’s western borders with the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Poles; and the forced relocation of Russians in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions all constitute a multigenerational history of terror that has entered Ukrainian consciousness, some even say in the national genome.
The fear for physical survival in Soviet Ukraine was paralleled by fear on social, spiritual and psychological levels. Ukrainians’ culture, humor, language and spirituality were variously persecuted and demeaned. From the Soviet era and even into the present, Big Brother has been watching: A high concentration of secret agents and informants, the near-limitless budget for surveillance and wiretapping — and now, the collection of metadata — have produced a deeply embedded suspicion and fear of authority. To survive, one lived carefully. “Better to have your house at the edge of the village,” “don’t get too involved,” “initiative is punishable” and “we wanted things to work out, but they turned out as always” are familiar Ukrainian proverbs that express that fear. In light of this context, the true significance of the Maidan movement becomes clear — it is a collective renunciation of fear and the proclamation of identity, solidarity and self-determination, virtually unprecedented in scope and recognition. — Bishop Borys Gudziak
from our world
Elias Kayrouz While reporting on the work of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Lebanon (see Page 6), writer Diane Handal spoke to one Lebanese Maronite villager who volunteers with the sisters to help Syrian refugees, most of whom are Muslim. Elias Kayrouz offered his perspective on life from his village in the Bekaa Valley, from Lebanon’s civil war to Syria’s.
My sister who owned a restaurant passed away and now her children and her husband run it. I helped them in the café before, but less now — only when they need the help.
ONE: Tell us a little about yourself.
EK: I met the sisters two and a half years ago. My neighbor Yusuf was volunteering at the school and introduced me to them.
EK: I am 40 years old. I was born in Bechouat. I am a Maronite Christian.
ONE: When did you get involved in volunteering with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd? How did you learn about their work?
I studied until fifth grade, and then I started farming lentils, tobacco and wheat. I worked as a tobacco farmer until two and a half years ago.
About the same time, the war in Syria had started, so there was a need for more volunteers.
My mother lives here. My father is dead. We had five boys and six girls in our family.
EK: Yes, I work as a doorman and security guard at a local high school in the afternoon.
ONE: Do you work elsewhere?
ONE: Could you tell me a little about your childhood that inspired you to help others? EK: I grew up hearing stories about my father and grandfather helping the hungry and the poor people for years from wars. It left an impression, and now I’m carrying on that tradition. ONE: Was there anything growing up in Bechouat during the civil war that shaped your feelings toward people of different religions? EK: I grew up in a Christian village and saw the civil war in Lebanon, the hatred and violence between the Muslim and Christian people. It came from the differentiation of sects and religions, and watching it taught us not to differentiate — to be open to seeing one another as human beings. We learned to understand what others are going through, regardless of background.
ONE: Did you have any Muslim neighbors before the war started? EK: Before, there were only Maronite Christians. The only others were Syrian workers, migrant farmers who would visit for a season at a time. ONE: What has your work as a volunteer working with Syrian refugees taught you? EK: Through working with the Syrian refugees, I have come to know hardship. Some of them say: “You can’t help us; we need more.” That makes me feel down — even frustrated — but at the end of the day, you can only do so much.
he did a bad job. When the owner told other people about it, he said unkind things about all Syrians. ONE: Can you tell me what changes you have witnessed over the last three years in this region as a result of the war in Syria? EK: A lot of things have changed, being so close to Syria. We see fewer travelers. Tourists from Iraq, Jordan and Egypt no longer visit — they are scared by our nearness to the border, by the fighting and retaliation between Shiites and Sunnis. Christians worry about being caught in the middle. ONE: Do you have any words to share about your philosophy on
how this sectarian conflict can be resolved? EK: We are one. All we need is for people to see how Muslims and Christians treat each other as human beings. Think about the animal kingdom: The strong animals kill the weak ones. If this is how human beings live, the strong keep killing the weak, there will be no progress — just the law of the jungle. For me, doing good differentiates me from the animals. Over time, maybe I will help other people because of my example. I do good in order to differentiate myself from the animals. I am sorry to put it so simply, but it is the truth.
“I do good in order to differentiate myself from the animals.” ONE: What is your personal advice to others in helping Muslims, bridging the differences and exposing biases? EK: I think to myself: When I lay my head on my pillow, what would make me feel more at peace — if I work against other people and feed into the negativity, or if I help other people? Which would help me sleep better at night? I advise everyone to think deeply about this. ONE: Have you suffered any backlash from friends, family or fellow Christians? EK: I know some people who say, “Good for you,” and others who say, “What business do you have with the Syrians?” But this is mostly because of preconceptions and prejudices. For example, a Syrian worked on someone’s house and
on the world of CNEWA
t is most difficult for us in the West to fathom how children displaced by war can survive. There are children who live in tents and face the constant grip of cold weather, insufficient water and food, poor sanitation and dirty clothes. But most of all, they have lost their mother or father — or both. Some of their parents have been killed — right in front of them — while others have been taken away or disappeared in the night. In the Middle East there are two basic categories of displaced
children: Those seeking refuge in their own country and those who have fled to another land. Although things might be a little better for those who remain in their own homeland — familiar environments, language and perhaps extended family — it is by no means an environment for innocent children. Imagine a child, alone in a foreign land, where everyone is a complete stranger. Imagine that that child has had to flee several times from several areas of conflict or even several countries.
Such is the plight of Armenian children who fled Iraq for refuge in Syria, and now have found a safe haven in Lebanon. How long will this refuge hold out? Where to next? Armenia? When will the horror end? No one knows the answer. And if one looks at history as a guide, the Armenians have had a very sad history, having been routed and chased from their ancient homeland and now in their places of refuge. We have an expression, “Home is where the heart is.” CNEWA, in partnership with local the churches,
Some casualties of war are barely old enough to walk Help those most vulnerable www.cnewa.org
reaches out to these innocent children and tries to create some semblance of a safe and secure environment, meeting the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing, and going far beyond. During a recent visit to a large settlement of Armenian Syrian refugees in Beirut, I was very touched to join groups of children tutored by very committed teachers, refugees themselves, as part of a program to keep their minds active in learning and their hearts engaged in an environment
of love. And CNEWA, thanks to our benefactors, is there, bringing alive this loving program, which instills both hope and cultural pride. The smiles on the faces of the children demonstrate how education is one of the best remedies and most basic needs for displaced children. You should feel most blessed in knowing your generous contributions to CNEWA can make a huge difference in the lives of these little victims of war and oppression.
On their behalf and in their name, I thank all of you for confronting the horror of being strangers in a foreign land and making these little ones feel loved and part of our family. Msgr. John E. Kozar
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